Before finishing a visit to South Korea on Sunday, President Joe Biden offered a short message to the nuclear-armed dictator in the north, whom US officials say could be preparing for a provocation during the US leader’s visit to Asia.
“Hello,” Biden said when asked his message for Kim Jong-un. “Period.”
The succinct greeting reflected the Biden administration’s failed attempts to restart diplomacy with Pyongyang. Attempts at outreach to the north have gone largely unanswered. Instead, Kim has stepped up missile launches and could be preparing for a seventh underground nuclear test.
Biden said he was prepared for such unforeseen events during his first trip to Asia.
“We are prepared for anything North Korea does. We’ve been thinking about how we’re going to react to whatever they do. So I’m not worried,” Biden said.
He spoke before visiting some of the nearly 30,000 US military personnel stationed here as the last stop on his visit to South Korea.
The Americans deployed to the Korean peninsula have long acted as a signal to US military strength in a region alarmed by the nuclear-armed nation to the north. Increasingly, they also act as a reminder of Western muscle strength in a region heavily influenced by China.
Biden plans to observe a joint airspace control center where members of the US and South Korean military are working side by side to guard airspace tense by North Korea’s intensification of missile tests.
Earlier in the day, the president met with Hyundai Motor Group chairman Chung Euisun in Seoul, where he highlighted $11 billion in new investments from the Korean automaker, including $5.5 billion to build a new electric vehicle factory. opening in Savannah, Georgia.
One of Biden’s main goals when visiting Asia this week was to reaffirm his commitment to two key alliances while also looking for ways to further expand the partnership. He will leave South Korea for Japan later in the day, carrying a similar message of reassurance that America’s longtime ally in the Pacific can rely on the United States as a reliable security and economic partner.
A day earlier, Biden and his South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Suk Yeol, wrote in a joint statement that they were open to expanding joint military exercises that Biden’s predecessor scaled back, finding them too expensive and provocative. Biden said the cooperation between the two countries “shows our willingness to tackle all threats together”.
The expanded military exercises will aim to ensure “what is necessary to best ensure military preparedness and ensure our ability to work closely together as best we can,” a senior government official said on Sunday, though he declined to provide a timeline or advice. to give about the scope of the extended drilling.
“Mr. President, your country’s democracy demonstrates the power to deliver for its people,” Biden told Yoon during a toast at the start of a state dinner on Saturday night. “We are proud to say that the generals can also say with me today that our armed forces stand side by side, standing on a peninsula for seven decades to keep the peace and enable that shared prosperity.”
He would likely carry a similar message to Japan, which also hosts a significant population of US military personnel and maintains a mutual defense treaty with the United States. Growing provocations by North Korea and territorial hold by China have sparked deep concern in the country, which has looked to the US for assurances over its security.
Biden is expected to visit Emperor Naruhito at his Imperial Palace before meeting on Monday with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office last fall. He will later reveal the outline of a trade plan for Asia that officials hope will generate widespread support. And he will conclude his visit with a summit of the Quad collective — made up of the United States, Japan, India and Australia — widely seen as an attempt to counter China’s military and economic ambitions.
During his journey, Biden has sought to link the parallel sets of economic and security issues that have emerged in his talks with leaders. His trade oversight, which is seen as a scaled-down alternative to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact scrapped by its predecessor, is expected to put a lot of emphasis on resilient supply chains decoupled from Chinese parts – a message he has at multiple points in Seoul. transferred.
Among the other myriad issues he hopes to address — including regional security, trade, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine — is the question of improving ties between the two countries he is visiting this week. Relations between Japan and South Korea have deteriorated in recent years, a combination of long-running historic resentments and more recent trade moves.
Biden told reporters in Seoul on Saturday that it is “critical” that the US, South Korea and Japan have a “very close trilateral relationship”.
He said the current state of the world, where autocratic regimes like China and Russia have challenged democratic norms, requires the rest of the world to stick together despite lingering differences.
“Things have changed,” Biden said during his press conference. “The democracies in the Pacific feel that there is a need for much closer cooperation, not only militarily, but also economically and politically.”